Obama says Ebola fight not over, requests $6bn to combat virus

Obama says Ebola fight not over, requests $6bn to combat virus
President Barack Obama praised efforts to combat Ebola in the United States and West Africa, but said the world cannot defeat the deadly virus without more action. He called on Congress to authorize an additional $6.18 billion to battle the disease.

Speaking at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, President Obama said the funds are necessary to help “extinguish” Ebola, which has taken the lives of nearly 6,000 people since it broke out in West Africa earlier this year. He pushed Congress to approve the money before its holiday recess.

"It's a good Christmas present to the American people and to the world," Obama said, referring to the extra funding. "The money's running out. We cannot beat Ebola without more funding. If we want other countries to step up, we are going to have to lead the way."

Before speaking at the NIH, Obama was given a tour of the facility, where scientists are currently hard at work on a potential Ebola vaccine. The team has completed phase 1 clinical trials for its vaccine, meaning large-scale trials in West Africa will occur in the coming weeks.

Obama cautioned that the vaccine may not ultimately be the answer the international community is looking for, but he called NIH’s results “exciting.”

Aside from NIH’s vaccine, the White House is supporting research on four other vaccines – one of which has also completed phase 1 clinical trials.

Additionally, the White House announced that the US has now designated 35 hospitals across the country as Ebola treatment centers – up significantly from the three facilities designated previously. The number of labs capable of testing Ebola in the US has also risen to 42 labs in 36 states. Before the outbreak, there were 13 labs in 13 states.

U.S. President Barack Obama listens as Dr. Nancy Sullivan talks about Ebola in the Vaccine Research Center during his visit to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland December 2, 2014 (Reuters / Larry Downing)

While the US has not seen a case of Ebola diagnosed within its borders since October, the President emphasized that more needs to be done. There are concerns that with no new cases inside of the US, lawmakers may not feel the need to approve billions in extra funding.

"Every hotspot is an ember that if not contained can become a new fire, so we cannot let down our guard even for a minute," he said. "And we can't just fight this epidemic. We have to extinguish it."

There is some concern that Obama’s funding request could get tangled up in Washington’s budgetary battles. Congress has about a week to pass a spending bill in time to avert another government shutdown, and with many Republicans mulling ways to punish Obama for his actions on immigration reform, Ebola funding could find itself slipping out of mind.

The President added that the US continues to aid Ebola-stricken countries – primarily Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone – in their campaigns to stop the virus from spreading. New treatment centers have been built and training for overseas health care workers has also increased.

"American leadership matters every time," Obama said. "We set the tone and we set the agenda. This disease is not just a test of our health system. It is a test of our character as a nation. It asks us who we are as Americans."

Obama’s comments arrived as Doctors Without Borders criticized the international response as too slow and inconsistent. The group said there needs to be more beds and resources in each of the three countries hit hardest by the virus.

“It is extremely disappointing that states with biological-disaster response capacities have chosen not to utilize them,” Dr. Joanne Liu, the organization’s international president, said in a statement. “How is it that the international community has left the response to Ebola, now a transnational threat, to doctors, nurses and charity workers?”